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Change Management in Project Management

Businesses must constantly evolve and adapt to meet a variety of challenges—from changes in technology to the rise of new competitors to a shift in laws, regulations, or underlying economic trends.  The motivation for change may come from the “planned initiative”, becoming “more competitive” or “closer to the customer” or “more efficient.” Change management refers to the systems, tools and processes used to manage change within a project and its team. Failure to do so could lead to stagnation or, worse, failure.


According to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK® Guide, Project management is the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to deliver something of value to people. It focuses on the tasks required to successfully design, develop and deliver the project, initiative, or technical solution.


Change is anything that transforms or impacts projects, tasks, processes, structures, or even job functions. Organizational change refers broadly to the actions a business takes to change or adjust a significant component of its organization. This may include company culture, internal processes, underlying technology or infrastructure, corporate hierarchy, or another critical aspect. Change management focuses on the people impacted by this change and enables them to engage, adopt, and use it.


Change management is the process of guiding organizational change to fruition, from the earliest stages of conception and preparation, through implementation and, finally, to resolution.  Approximately 50 percent of all organizational change initiatives are unsuccessful, highlighting why knowing how to plan for, coordinate, and carry out change is a valuable skill for managers and business leaders alike.


Change Management Process

The change management process often consists of a project manager and a dedicated change management team. The manager will oversee team members’ work to ensure they successfully incorporate change into their practices and achieve the overall project objectives. Team responsibilities can include liaising with stakeholders, developing training programs, and tracking engagement.

Successful change management requires effective communication with both your team members and key stakeholders. Designing a communication strategy that acknowledges this reality is critical.

1. Prepare the Organization for Change

For an organization to successfully pursue and implement change, it must be prepared both logistically and culturally. Before delving into logistics, cultural preparation must first take place.

In the preparation phase, the manager is focused on helping employees recognize and understand the need for change. They raise awareness of the various challenges or problems facing the organization that are acting as forces of change and generating dissatisfaction with the status quo. Gaining this initial buy-in from employees who will help implement the change can remove friction and resistance later on.

2. Craft a Vision and Plan for Change

Once the organization is ready to embrace change, managers must develop a thorough and realistic plan for bringing it about. Without a detailed plan and defined strategy, it can be difficult to usher a change initiative through to completion.

The plan should detail:

Strategic goals: What goals does this change help the organization work toward?
Key performance indicators: How will success be measured? What metrics need to be moved? What’s the baseline for how things currently stand?
Project stakeholders and team: Who will oversee the task of implementing change? Who needs to sign off at each critical stage? Who will be responsible for implementation?
Project scope: What discrete steps and actions will the project include? What falls outside of the project scope?
The plan should also account for any unknowns or roadblocks that could arise during the implementation process and would require agility and flexibility to overcome.


Elements of a Change Management Plan

Define the following elements below to create an effective change management plan for your project.

Change Management Roles: First, who is going to be doing what in your change management plan? Who has the authority to submit a change request, who reviews them and who authorizes them? Some of these roles will take place on a change control board.
Change Control Board: Staff your change control board with people who will receive the change requests and have the authority to approve or veto them.
Develop a Process: You need a process in order to effectively submit, evaluate, authorize and manage and control the change requests. Without a process, change management is unmanageable.

Change management can work alongside any project management methodology, such as Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Waterfall and PRINCE. For iterative projects, outcomes are achieved through repeated cycles or releases of change, with each cycle moving toward the final, intended outcome. Iterative project management is typically associated with Agile approaches to designing, developing and delivering solutions.

Change Request Form: You can’t have a process, however, if you don’t first create a change request form to capture the data. It’s important that the information you collect is consistent throughout the project.
Change Log: Basically, this is a place to collect, and then track all the change orders. Without a central location where changes can be identified, requests approved and assignments documented, there’s no way to know if there’s been any progress.
Use a Tool: A project planning software can help you keep track of changes through every phase of the project until it’s finally resolved.



3. Implement the Changes

After the plan has been created, all that remains is to follow the steps outlined within it to implement the required change. Whether that involves changes to the company’s structure, strategy, systems, processes, employee behaviors, or other aspects will depend on the specifics of the initiative.

During the implementation process, change managers must be focused on empowering their employees to take the necessary steps to achieve the goals of the initiative.

Change managers:

Craft key messages that must be communicated
Work with sponsors to build active and visible coalitions of senior leaders
Make the case to impacted employees about why the change is needed

They should also do their best to anticipate roadblocks and prevent, remove, or mitigate them once identified. Repeated communication of the organization’s vision is critical throughout the implementation process to remind team members why change is being pursued.


4. Embed Changes Within Company Culture and Practices

Once the change initiative has been completed, change managers must prevent a reversion to the prior state or status quo. This is particularly important for organizational change related to processes, workflows, culture, and strategies. Without an adequate plan, employees may backslide into the “old way” of doing things, particularly during the transitory period.

By embedding changes within the company’s culture and practices, it becomes more difficult for backsliding to occur. New organizational structures, controls, and reward systems should all be considered as tools to help change stick.


5. Review Progress and Analyze Results

Just because a change initiative is complete doesn’t mean it was successful. Conducting analysis and review, or a “project post mortem,” can help business leaders understand whether a change initiative was a success, failure, or mixed result. It can also offer valuable insights and lessons that can be leveraged in future change efforts.

Ask yourself questions like: Were project goals met? If yes, can this success be replicated elsewhere? If not, what went wrong?


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